Take a chance, take a chance

11 07 2010

Publish or perish?

What ought to be the fate of a first, flawed (fatally?) novel?

My second novel is pretty good, with no obvious structural flaws—although there are, of course, still flaws—and perhaps worth the effort to find an agent and, with luck, a publisher.

But the first, mm, the first is most definitely a first novel. Too much of this, not enough of that: the motivation for one if not two of the main characters remains murky, and however human the characters are (I am pretty good with character), they are a bit, tsssss, how do I put this, too wise?

Still, even with the over-knowingness, the characters are appealing, and I’d like to give them a chance. Hence the dilemma.

E-publishing removes almost all of the obstacles to publication, which is both a good and a bad thing. If an author thinks a novel is engaging enough, she can bypass all of the gatekeepers to print publication and go direct to the cybersphere. But gatekeepers are not always bad, and can keep an author from putting out something for which she feels affection, but which is also perhaps not ready for prime time.

Kill your darlings, said Faulkner, and I agree, wholeheartedly. I’ve struck beautiful sentences, etched out lyrical paragraphs, and consigned lovely metaphors to the trash bin, all because they didn’t advance the tale or the argument.  The play’s the thing, said another well-known author (albeit in a different context), and it is because I ardently believe that the overall purpose matters more than any part that I am willing to kill my darlings.

But what if the entire play—or novel, in this case—is your darling?

I never, er, well, not since I was a kid, did I expect to write a novel, and then  whooosh, this one (tentatively named Unexpected People) poured out of me. I wrote it in three months, after getting home from the late shift at work, and it came out clean. There was editing and trimming, of course, but I wrote and I wrote and then as I neared the end I wondered how it would end and then it did.

I wrote, and then I was done. What an amazing feeling!

The second novel was more complicated, which in turn required more discipline, more editing, more time; it is, on the whole, a more involved novel. But it also wouldn’t have happened without that first one, with what I learned in the writing of the first one, with what I learned I could do.

So do I chalk up Unexpected People as a kind of exercise, the practice before the performance?

That seems wrong, not least because it wasn’t an exercise, but a thing in itself: the stories, the characters, matter in themselves.

There is another way to deal with this, of course: try to fix those flaws. When I’d considered this previously, I thought, Oh, no, any surgery would kill the patient. But now I’m not so sure: I just sent a copy to C. (she’s helping me with a possible cover for a Smashwords version) and, just for kicks, decided to re-read it. The problems are evident—so much so I’m worried about what C. will say—but I still like the people in the story, still want to find out (even though I already know) what happens.

(Yes, I’m more hesitant to have a friend read this than strangers. That’s how it is.)

So I’ll finish reading it, then consider ways to shrink the flaws, perhaps by cutting back on the knowingness (i.e., the talkiness) of the characters, and hear what C. has to say.

I both do and do not want to publish this on Smashwords. There’s the whole matter of trying to get readers for it and marketing and shit would I have to Tweet and. . . tchaaaaarrgh maybe open a fucking. . . Facebook! account and all of the other issues of self-publishing.

But those are all technicalities, and secondary to the main question: Do I kill this darling, or let it find its way?

Stay tuned.


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5 responses

11 07 2010
maryfrikkenpoppins

Forget smashwords. Just get that sucker in the mail! And mail it to New York publishers yourself, without an agent. And while that is in the mail, write another novel. What’s the worst that could happen? It not get published? It’s not like a publisher ever remembers the bad maunuscripts, but they do remember the good ones!
If after a year you don’t get any bites – then self publish. That’s my encouragement, anyway.
Good job finishing a novel, btw! 😉

12 07 2010
geekhiker

Reading through this post, one thought came to mind (and it’s something I’ve seen in some screenplays of late as well): perhaps you have the right characters, but they’re in the wrong story?

12 07 2010
emilylhauser

As someone who found writing feature articles on spec too miserably unsure to do it more than a time or two, I can’t even imagine just sitting down and writing a book because it is in you.

Well no. That’s not so. I did write a book once, because it was in me, but I assumed the entire time that it would be published. I never, for one second, entertained the notion that I would fail to figure out how to do the necessary work to get it from a pile of printer paper into book form and it would slowly but very surely become irrelevant and there it would lie.

In my mind, as I wrote, it was going to be published.

So, what I believe I am trying to say, in a very long and certainly roundabout way, is: I’m amazed that you did what you did, and that you did it twice.

I hope you find a way to give those characters life out here beyond the confines of their printer paper, and I suspect it may involve killing some minor darlings within the larger darling. Perhaps you publish the second one first, and then, with that success at your back, try to publish the first. But I do hope you find a way to get them from the inside of your head, to the inside of ours.

12 07 2010
absurdbeats

@mfp What you’re saying makes sense, but I think taking on the kind of responsibility for this piece that Smashwords would require of me has given me a kind of clarity about the work itself that handing it off to someone else wouldn’t.

Huh, I guess that doesn’t make much sense, but I want to keep my hands on this sucker, at least for awhile. And the good thing about Smashwords is that I retain the copyright, so, if by some miracle someone would pick up my second novel (which is in every way better than the first) and expressed interest in the first, well, I could always pull it back.

@gh: Nah, the plot’s not really the problem. It’s that all of the characters know too much: they know which questions to ask, how to answer them, or are able to see things that, honestly, they probably wouldn’t see. Some knowingness I think is good—I think regular folk may actually know a fair amount about their lives—but it’s just too much.

@eh: I was taken aback by the novel-writing, Miss Emily—never expected it, never really considered even trying it. And then there it was. And then another. So, never say never. . . .

And, yep, there will be blood—or at least, words—left on the floor, if these characters are to have any chance at all. And that’s all right; better than being cooped up on a hard drive for all eternity.

13 07 2010
Christine

Handing a piece of writing (or any art, I suppose) to a friend is so fraught. Which is why I wanted my current (and best) effort at a novel to be finished so we could exchange. And be equally vulnerable! Unfortunately, the apocalypse novel is nowhere near being sendable to anyone at all, and things are moving ahead anyway.

That said, I make bold to say here that the basic story is good and interesting, and for the most part the flaws are minor. But I’m only up to March.

Some beautiful passages, and yes, you are good with characters. I can learn something here.

I say, go ahead and publish, maybe after one last revision now that you’ve got some distance on it. And once you have that really killer cover, of course.

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